The naked science of bacteriophage therapy


Dr Heather Hendrickson

Antibiotic resistance and the rise of phage therapy as a solution to this potentially life-threatening issue is one of the topics discussed by a Massey researcher on Radio New Zealand recently.

Dr Heather Hendrickson, a lecturer in molecular biosciences, spoke about her research into bacteriophage therapy on the Naked Scientists show.

Two shows were recorded – one in Auckland and one in Wellington – with material from both shows to be featured on BBC Radio 5 Live, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Dr Hendrickson is a regular commentator on the issue of antibiotic resistance and phage therapy, which involves the use of viruses to infect and destroy harmful bacteria.

Dr Hendrickson has studied bacterial evolution for the past 15 years. She hopes her research will contribute to finding ways to protect the wider public from this potential health crisis.

“The issue of antibiotic resistance is one that looms large in our future as the effectiveness of this common medicine weakens and potentially becomes obsolete, leaving our immune systems to singularly fight bacteria and infection,” she says.

“We are looking at a post-antibiotic era where infections that arise from simple injuries could be resistant to our antibiotics and therefore life-threatening to any one of us,” says Dr Hendrickson.

A World Health Organization report released in April states: “this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance – when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections – is now a major threat to public health."

Dr Hendrickson has analysed this report and posted an explanation on her blog This Microbial Life about how New Zealand is directly affected. The issue is not just restricted to resistance in humans either.

“Agriculture and government need to accept their involvement as well by investing in research and taking action to prevent unnecessary antibiotic use,” she says.

Dr Hendrickson is an advocate for bacteriophage therapy as an alternative to antibiotics.

“Phage therapy is the application of a cocktail of appropriate phages [viruses that infect bacteria] in order to combat specific bacteria,” she says. “Gone will be the days of taking an antibiotic with broad-spectrum killing of the important and beneficial microorganisms in our bodies. Infections will be handled by taking a small dose of your enemies’ enemy.”

The Radio New Zealand/Naked Scientists show is available here.

Check out the Naked Scientists website here.

For more information on Dr Hendrickson’s research go to: http://thismicrobiallife.wordpress.com

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